Lives of the fellows

Richard Barrett Cole

b.5 September 1930 d.7 April 2013
BA Cantab(1954) MB BChir(1957) MRCP(1959) MD(1965) FRCP(1973)

Richard Barrett Cole, known to everyone as ‘Sam’, was a consultant in respiratory medicine in Stoke-on-Trent. He was recognised as a first class physician and was much sought after as a teacher. Outside medicine, he used the same meticulous and rigorous approach to excel in other areas, including his twin passions of fly fishing and orchids.

Sam Cole was born in Cambridge, the son of Leslie Barrett Cole [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.109], a consultant physician, and Mary Cole née Finlayson. Educated at King’s College Choir School and at Marlborough, he gained a BA at Cambridge in 1954, before undertaking his clinical training at the Middlesex Hospital, graduating MB BChir in 1957. Throughout this period (from 1950 to 1957) he served initially as a second lieutenant in the Royal Horse Artillery and was subsequently promoted to major in command of ‘Q’ Battery, the Bedfordshire Yeomanry Royal Artillery (Territorial Army).

After deciding to specialise in hospital practice, he became a registrar and then a senior registrar at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham (from 1960 to 1968). He was heavily involved in the Birmingham studies of the effects of prolonged oxygen administration on pulmonary hypertension in patients with chronic bronchitis and was co-author of a seminal paper on this topic (‘Reversal of pulmonary hypertension by prolonged oxygen administration to patients with chronic bronchitis’ Circ Res. 1968;23:147-157). Other studies related to alveolar-arterial oxygen tension differences and circulatory and blood gas changes in individuals with respiratory failure secondary to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) formed the basis of his MD thesis. He gained a Nuffield travelling fellowship to work with Julius Comroe [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VIII, p.105] at the cardiovascular research institute in San Francisco between 1964 and 1965. He greatly enjoyed the stimulus, but was modest enough to conclude that he did not really understand any of it.

In 1968 he was appointed as a consultant physician and senior lecturer in the department of medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast. He expanded his interest in respiratory disease into studies of tuberculosis in the elderly and of alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency, whilst continuing his major interest in COPD. He was a major contributor to a report on the future of chest services in Northern Ireland.

In 1975 he moved from Belfast to become a consultant physician to the North Staffordshire Hospital Centre, Stoke-on-Trent, where he applied his drive and talent to the establishment of the industrial and community health research centre, which later became part of the postgraduate medical school of the University of Keele. He was also one of the pillars of the development of the undergraduate medical school at the University of Keele. With characteristic vigour, Sam drove the development forward, establishing its reputation and encouraging individuals to produce numerous papers. Always a keen teacher of both postgraduates and undergraduates, he rapidly established the teaching course in respiratory medicine, encouraged the development and use of information technology in teaching and research, and completed the third edition of his textbook Essentials of respiratory disease (Churchill Livingstone, 1990), which was first published in 1971.

His interest in the use and interactions of drugs led him to join the editorial committee of the British national formulary. He was also the editor of Midlands medicine, the journal of the North Staffordshire Medical Institute, and wrote a further book – Drug treatment of respiratory disease (New York/Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1981).

He also continued to produce research papers on his major fields of interest. He encouraged the use of pharmacists in clinics and ward rounds to deal with the potential problems of administering drugs and their interactions. This innovative move met with some initial hostility, but was eventually widely accepted. The value of his intellectual approach was much appreciated, and he was invited to become a member of numerous local, regional and national committees, serving with distinction, and always seeking to innovate and develop both teaching and clinical standards.

His love of French took him to the Anglo French Medical Society, and he served as its treasurer for many years. He led the revival of the Midland Thoracic Society, serving as its president and encouraging it to move away from its permanent base in Birmingham to meet in other centres within the region.

When he retired from the NHS in 1995 he turned his attention away from medicine, and explored the old pottery and kiln sites in Stoke-on-Trent. With David Barker he co-edited Digging for early porcelain. The archaeology of six 18th-century British porcelain factories (Stoke-on-Trent, City Museum and Art Gallery, 1998) and helped organise a major exhibition at the Potteries Museum. He remained a passionate fly fisherman and even a few days before his death was planning his next fishing expedition. His love of orchids took him travelling widely: his aim was always to see them in their native habitat. He continued to travel despite increasing disability from heart disease.

Sam Cole was a very private man and was devoted to his family. He was survived by his wife Janey, also from a medical family, a son (Jamie), a daughter (Katie) and three grandchildren.

Keith Prowse

[Brit.med.J., 2013 346 2924]

(Volume XII, page web)

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